A comfy couch piled with soft pillows. A candle softly flickering. A kind smile. I was sitting in a counseling office yet again. Of course, I felt the usual silly feelings: it’s not that bad; I probably could have worked through this on my own; this is pointless to be wasting our money like this. But after I made the initial call, I was committed. At least for the first appointment.
A quick note: It’s essential to find a counselor/therapist who shares your general worldview. With help from friends, I found a counselor who understands how to help those who experienced adoption, trauma, etc. all from a Christian perspective. This is important!
The counselor was so kind, and her probing questions encouraged me to start talking through the last four years of my motherhood journey. Above all I needed to share my own internal struggle. After listening to me for almost an hour, she leaned forward, looked me in the eye, and spoke healing words I didn’t know I needed: you are handling a lot. It felt like soul-soothing relief; someone who saw me and confirmed the “a lot” of what I was experiencing and feeling.
During our second session together (yes, I did go back), the counselor asked more insightful questions, digging into my “whys” and hidden burdens. After I talked for a bit, she asked me if I ever struggled with perfectionism. I’m guessing that personality quirk-of-mine is rather obvious to others, but perfectionism is woven so tightly into my life that I couldn’t see it clearly. Me? A perfectionist? Her simple question caused a sudden light to dawn in my inner space; all of my behaviors and struggles finally started to make sense!
Interesting side story: For two years I thought I was an Enneagram Type 2–The Supportive Advisor. While I do have very strong “2” characteristics, it was around the same time I was going to counseling that I finally started to consider I may actually be a Type 1–The Moral Perfectionist. Initially the Type 1 personality actually repulsed me a bit, which can actually be an indication it may very well may be your own. For two years I could not even see myself clearly! Go figure!
For many years, perfectionism for me looked like good grades, reaching for excellent school performance, constantly refining dance routines, obedience to my parents, and handling relationships the “right way.” Now in a new season of motherhood, perfectionism looked different, more subtle, which I think is why I failed to recognize it. I truly felt like I wasn’t reaching for perfection as I stumbled through those years with little children. But still my futile attempts to attain some sort of high standard were always present, revealed through high expectations for myself, comparison constantly stealing joy, and no space for mistakes or grace. It was my own mama-brand of perfectionism and I was drowning.
The counselor and I had four sessions together that summer. She gave me small assignments; I read and journaled and reported back to her what my heart was learning. The space she gave me full of understanding and affirmation opened up a place for healing. Her prayers for me encouraged my heart and made space for my faith to be renewed. Slowly, freedom was dawning.
During our time together, we worked on four truths to counteract the perfectionist-lies my heart tended to believe.
- I am human
- I am not perfect
- I am doing the best that I can
- I am forgiven and loved
For weeks I copied those truths in my journal every morning, literally retraining my brain. The counselor gave me the phrase “I am doing the best that I can”; it was the hardest mantra to believe. To me, it felt like failure. Like rationalization. Like giving up. Is just “the best that I can” sufficient? What if I could do better? What if I could work harder? What if I could be more perfect? Such a hard concept for me to accept mentally and emotionally, but God’s Word stepped in with the truth my heart needed.
. . . giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:12-14 NIV
God Himself qualifies me; I cannot qualify myself.
God Himself rescues me; I am powerless to save.
God Himself brings me into His kingdom; I can never perform perfectly enough to get there on my own.
God Himself redeems and forgives me; I need only give joyful thanks.
To be continued . . . what does it look like inside a perfectionist brain?
You can find the rest of the series right here.